With good planning, gardens can have something blooming almost all year long. Fall often seems to be the most challenging with mums, asters and pansies as the most popular options. Gardeners looking for a unique alternative for fall color should check out my favorite flower, the toad lily.
Toad lilies prefer shade and grow best in soil with high organic matter and ample moisture, like a woodland area. Like other lilies, they produce blossoms at the top of upright stems.
I often categorize flowers as “drive-by” and “walk-by” depending on their flashiness, and toad lily is definitely a walk-by flower. Petals are typically white with purple spots and bear some resemblance to orchids in their coloration and daintiness. There are more than 20 species and varieties that offer different color variations, but all have some sort of spots or speckling on the petals.
Most varieties of toad lilies grow 1 foot to 3 feet tall. Clumps will enlarge to 1 foot to 2 feet wide. Most of the year toad lilies are a quiet inhabitant of shade gardens. Blooms emerge mid- to late September and typically last through the end of October. The best time to transplant is spring, but they can also be moved in the fall after blooms have faded or during the winter while the ground remains unfrozen.
Toad lilies grow slowly, so a plant may be in place two to three years before producing flowers. Miyazaki and Togen are popular varieties for this area.
How these lovely flowers got their name is unknown. Some theorists suggest that the rugged deep green leaves resemble a toad’s skin. Others believe the spots on the blossoms resemble the spots on a toad’s back. This seems to be a stretch, but maybe I am overly partial to the flower. There is also a legend that indigenous people in the Philippines rubbed the plant on their hands and forearms when they went toad hunting, but there is skepticism about whether that particular group even existed.
I suspect toads might like the same environment in which toad lilies survive, but I doubt the flowers themselves have any attracting properties.
Toad lilies’ hardiness varies with species, so make sure to read labels if adding them to your garden. They range from USDA Hardiness Zones 4 to 9. Lawrence and northeast Kansas are classified as Zone 6. The plants are native to China, Japan, Korea, Taiwan and the Philippines.
Just as the seasons change, so do people, and I am sad to say this is my last column. Stan Ring, the horticulture program assistant with K-State Research and Extension-Douglas County, will be writing Garden Calendar in the weeks ahead. A new Horticulture Extension Agent will follow.
I do want to say thank you to the many people who have contacted me over the past six years to comment or ask about something I have written, to volunteer to be featured in this column, or to suggest a topic. Your feedback is important to Extension as it works to meet the needs of individual communities.
I am now working as Kansas City Metro Area plant protection specialist with the Kansas Department of Agriculture and will continue to serve the Lawrence/Douglas County region in efforts to protect our state’s native and cultivated plants.
— Jennifer Smith is the former horticulture extension agent for K-State Research and Extension in Douglas County. Extension master gardeners can help with your gardening questions at 843-7058 or firstname.lastname@example.org.